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Sunday, April 20, 2014

"I am more than just a veil."

"I am a woman.
 I am more than just a veil,
I am more than what I wear,
I am someone."
                   (The Rose of Nowruz)

Two years ago, I had the privilege of writing a very special book on the rights of women for my Iranian friends, entitled,  "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom."
My dear friend ( her name withheld for security reasons) who lives in Tehran shared her powerful stories with me that became the basis of the storyline for my book. Since it's publication, The Rose of Nowruz, has been read by major human rights groups in both Iran and Canada, including my dear friends who live in the heart of The Islamic Republic.
Just recently I asked my Iranian friend to write a short, personal reflection on the treatment of women in Iran. She happily agreed.
I want you to hear, word-for-word, her feelings and convictions. My Iranian friend is an English teacher and has an amazing gift of describing from her heart, the way of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The following short paragraph is her latest story, reflecting on the treatment of women in Iran.

"Security. The word sounds familiar to many people around the world, but for me..that's not tangible. I would love to feel it one day if I get the chance and I hope no woman in the world feels the insecurity I'm coping with here.....
Everywhere else women are praised for their beauty, all the sacrifices they do for the family and for bringing life into this world, but here, when it comes to women..there are no rights, no values...women are THINGS which must be used!
The worst thing about this inequality is that you have to feel it every day from the bottom of your heart...
The simplest example that I can mention is standing at the street corner waiting for a taxi..
Just because of standing there, every cab driver or motorcyclist feels free to honk the horn, stop next to you, and begin flirting with you, saying nasty things to you....
It is reminder that every day you are being treated like an object created to make life full of pleasure for men.
It really doesn't matter whether or not you are single or married, well dressed or not, having a complete hijab or not, what I'm describing happens to every Iranian woman every single day!
It is very devastating to experience being watched and harassed from the moment that you leave home until the time that you arrive at your destination.
They feel free to whisper whatever dirty and nasty things that they wish. They feel free to comment on your face and body, and even the minute things that you never noticed in the mirror.
Narrating and elaborating this issue really makes me sick of being a woman here.
I bet you could never tolerate a single day here!

While it's true that in my culture, flirting and harassment of women is also a problem, In Iran, it is a way of life resulting from the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith. Some of my Muslim friends insist that the Quran is a book that highly praises the equality of women, but when carefully read, it contains statements that seem to teach quite the opposite.
For example, Surah 2:223 declares,  " Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like.."
Reflecting back on my friend's description of the harassment and flirting of men, it is now understandable why she is treated this way in every day life. This verse from the Quran essentially is giving permission for a man to treat his wife in a lude, sexual and vulgar way.
Another example, Surah 4:11 states: "The share of a male shall be twice that of a female..."
The Quran is very clearly teaching that when it comes to the issue of inheritance rights, the man is preferred to over that of a woman.
One more example: The Hadith, (a collection of the sayings and deeds of the prophet)
 Volume 1, book 6, number 301,
 The prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half that of a man?"
 The women said, "Yes."
He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."

You can now clearly feel and understand why my dear Iranian friend suffers from this type of abuse and harassment everyday. Her culture has been taught that men are superior to women and they are permitted to treat them as mere sexual objects! Instead of treating women with dignity, honor and respect, men engage in perverse behavior and treat them as mere possessions for their entertainment.
This is the cultural mindset that my dear friend has to cope with everyday.
In contrast to the Quran, The Bible portrays women with dignity and respect as image bearers of God. Women were treated with compassion and kindness by Jesus during his earthly ministry. In the Jewish culture, women suffered from much of the same treatment and Jesus came on the scene treating women with the worth and dignity that they deserved!
Proverbs 31:10 is a perfect example of showing high praise to the value and worth of women. The writer, King Lemuel asks the question, "An excellent wife, who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels!
Verse 25, "She is clothed with strength and dignity..." (verse 26) "when she speaks her words are wise and she gives instruction with kindness."

What a contrast to the portrait of women painted by the Quran and the Hadith!

Life is hard for women in Iran. They are daily scrutinized by the morality police making sure they are wearing their hijab properly and if not they can be arrested and fined. In my book, I describe this in much more detail.
My heart goes out to my dear Iranian friend. She deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. In chapter two of my book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom," My character Bahareh is sitting alone at the bus stop reflecting on how her culture treats women and suddenly she begins to write down her thoughts and feelings:

 "I am a woman. I am more than just a veil. I am more than what I wear. 
   I am someone.
  Someone who has the right to speak her mind. The right to be heard. The right to pursue her dreams. The right to be respected and the right to be treated as an equal.
 I have the right to live as I choose. The right to pursue my dreams and the right to be happy.
 God has given me all of these rights and no man or government can take these rights away from me.
 I am a woman and I proclaim my right to be free!